Yet again, I had a planned to share different insights with you today. But my life has been consumed with something else this week and it has been so soul shaking, I need to share with you what’s going on in my life. And what I’m learning.
Truthfully, I don’t even know where to start.
For those who may not know, my husband Troy and I recently moved from Fort McMurray to Vancouver. Troy lived in Fort McMurray for 9 years and I lived in Fort McMurray for 5.5 years.
This week, as you know, Fort McMurray has been dealt a devastating blow. The community of 88,000 people was evacuated and the most recent count is that 2,400 structures within the community have burned to the ground.
Some of you reading this are from Fort McMurray.
If you are one of those brave people who has been evacuated and is now working to rebuild your life, you are a hero to me.
I cannot pretend to imagine what you are going through. And I certainly am not writing this to take away any of the support and credit you deserve.
My aim is to share some of the stories of strength, courage and heart. And to hopefully uplift you as you start to rebuild our incredible community.
The decision to move from Fort McMurray was not an easy one. We didn’t leave Fort McMurray for any negative reason. We would have told you two weeks ago, and I’ll tell you today, we LOVED calling Fort McMurray home.
We left Fort McMurray because we wanted a change, an adventure and new opportunities. Of course, those are the same reasons why we moved to Fort McMurray in the first place.
For us, the fires in Fort McMurray have been deeply personal and devastating. The horror, the stories of fear, tales of incredible human spirit and togetherness, the images of people’s homes burned, the videos of harrowing escapes – these are the memories and experiences of our beloved friends and family.
What I want to share with you is some of my lessons and reflections. I want to share what gives me hope and what I know for sure.
My heart has been shattered into a million little pieces. I know I am not alone in this.
I have spoken to many friends who have also moved from Fort McMurray. They have shared in the heartbreak along with the evacuees, and our beautiful country. I hope as I gather my thoughts writing this, it helps you in some way to gain perspective too.
The hardest moments for me were:
- Hearing initial reports of the fire. Feeling the fear and anxiety of evacuation through my friends in their texts, phone calls and messages.
- Knowing how seemingly impossible it would be to evacuate 88,000+ people through 1 highway.
- Watching the news and non-stop traffic reports, praying everyone would get out safe.
- Sitting at home helpless. Not knowing what to do and how to help.
- Feeling guilty for leaving. Feeling guilty for being safe. Feeling guilty for feeling guilty.
- Having Troy evacuated (from one of the oil sands sites south of the city) and not knowing how fast the fires were coming his way.
- Not being there for friends during the escape - to help rescue pets or share rides. Or even now as they start to establish a new sense of normal and routine.
- Hearing and watching videos of friend’s harrowing escapes, knowing it’s someone I deeply care about.
- Knowing many of my friends remained in the city (and are there to this day) fighting for its future.
- Hearing from many friends who have lost their homes. Seeing the photos they share of their houses no longer standing. Or being the one to break the awful news of a friend’s home to him/her. Crushing.
- Seeing photos and videos that showed that both the homes we lived in while in Fort McMurray have now been reduced to ashes. I am saddened by our fortune in the misfortunes of others.
What I learned
- Miracles do exist. The fact that 88,000 people were evacuated safely is a miracle. Don’t believe me? Let me put it this way. Until recently, everyday traffic in Fort McMurray was so bad that the TV show Dexter once used footage of traffic in Fort McMurray to demonstrate an evacuation. Now imagine that everyday traffic being an actual evacuation. MIRACLE.
- The human spirit is relentless. The whole country has come together to support complete strangers. The whole world is watching and praying and providing free food, gas, donations, water, clothing and accommodation. Sometimes the worst situations in the world bring out the best in humanity. This tragedy is no exception.
- Heroes are among us. Hero is a word we should not use lightly. But to all the people who stayed to save the town when everyone else fled – those people are heroes. To the people who came running to the rescue from around the world and joined the efforts to keep Fort McMurray alive – you are a hero. These are every day people who have risen to the challenge and shown tremendous courage and strength. They are the firefighters, and RCMP, who fought and continue to work despite losing their own homes. To the oil sands employees, Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo and countless others that have been working on a safe environment for all people, you are my heros. I personally know a lot of these people and am humbled. I bet you have heroes in your life too. Find one and go hug a hero today.
- You are stronger than you think. There’s a group that doesn’t get mentioned enough that is incredibly inspiring to me. These are the men and women whose families are STILL in Fort McMurray. You are heros! I can’t even imagine what you are going through. I know many men and women who single-handedly evacuated their families and had to drive out of the city, without their partners, kids or parents. That must have been unbelievably difficult. But I know, and you have proved, that you are strong. I know you are faced with challenges that continue to come. The questions, the unknowns.
Keep your chin up. Stay positive. You are stronger than you think. You will do it.
- Your memories are forever. There are some things not even “the beast” of a fire can take. It has been very saddening to imagine both the houses we lived in are now gone. I know it is much more difficult for those who have lost their current houses. Through the sadness, I believe we can all take comfort in knowing that our memories are always with us. The deck Troy and I built with help from our dads may be gone but I’ll never forget how “legit” I felt learning how to screw nails into a deck and the pride I experienced. The hot-tub we laboriously moved into our backyard with no less than 10 people may no longer be there. In my mind though, I will always smile as I remember the hot-tub parties we’d host and in the summer, the cold-tub parties we had when we turned down the temperature on hot Fort Mac days. These possessions and structures may be gone. But the lessons, the laughter, the bonds and the friendships - those stay with me forever. And yours will forever be with you.
- Nothing is more precious than time with loved ones. In our everyday lives, we sometimes get so busy accumulating stuff and getting bogged down in things. Times like these remind us that our lives are the most precious thing we ever have. Everything else is a distraction from the important things – love, friendship, family, courage, laughter, kindness and connection. This has been a beautiful reminder for me and I will be looking for more ways to keep this in the front of my mind when the tempting hamster wheel of consumption starts calling my name again.
I have hope:
- Fort McMurray will rebuild. This is an opportunity for rebirth and new life. Fort McMurray is the most tight-knit community I have ever been a part of. I don’t know if it is the fact that we were so isolated. Or the fact that people come from afar and leave everything behind in hopes for a better life. Or that we usually don’t have family in the area so friends and coworkers become your family. I spent countless Christmas dinners, Thanksgiving dinners, Easters, birthdays, stagettes, moving days and baby showers with my Fort Mac family. Many of the smartest, most driven, intelligent, funny, and hard-working people I’ve ever met are from Fort McMurray. Their dedication and work ethic will ensure our community is rebuilt and better than ever.
I have no doubt that the community will come back. As much as it has a reputation for being transient in nature (and it definitely is in many ways), those who have called it home and continue to call it home have a deep love for the city.
- Having faith in the unknown is sometimes more important than “knowing.” My faith and trust in the Universe must scream louder than the guilt I’m feeling for moving away and for not being there. I’ve felt extremely guilty for leaving Fort McMurray. For leaving my friends. For being safe in my bed, in my home while they experience a living nightmare. BUT I know this is not logical. Instead, I must trust that this is for a reason. I may not understand it fully, but I must put faith in “what is meant to be.” As a type-A planner, this is hard. And yet, I also can believe that perhaps I’m meant to be in Vancouver because now I can help my friends. Without having to worry about my own safety, I can support them. I can help them find a new normal. I can fundraise. And maybe even go to Fort McMurray to help with the clean-up and rebirth.
If this at all resonates for you, as an evacuee, as someone who is connected to Fort McMurray in any way, or for anyone who wants to help – I encourage you to have faith. Have faith that there is light after darkness. That there is beauty within the ugly. That you have control of your life and it WILL have happiness in it again. There will be a day when you will be better than ok. Have faith that there is a larger purpose. That through the pain, the tragedy, there will be regrowth. There will be pride. There will be an even stronger sense of community. There will be courage. There will be love.
And there will be Fort McMurray.
What you can do:
If you are an evacuee – I am so proud of your strength and courage. I am humbled by the grace with which you have handled the last week. Please take the time for yourself and your family. Take time for what is important to you. Give yourself permission to heal.
You are not alone. We will be there on this journey.
We are all with you.
If you are anyone else reading this: Please donate. You can donate to the Red Cross here. Or consider donating to the United Way of Fort McMurray, an organization I worked very closely with during my time there and can only say incredible things about. Here is some information about other organizations you can also help including the local SPCA and Salvation Army.
*To support the rebuild of Fort McMurray, I have decided to offer The Spark package for free in lieu of a donation to the Red Cross for anyone who invests before May 31st, 2016. That means that if you donate the amount of what you would normally pay me for The Spark package - $500 - to the Red Cross or United Way of Fort McMurray, I will provide you coaching services. It’s a win-win-win situation. Fort McMurray evacuees get help while you get coaching AND you get a tax-refund. And I get the pleasure of working with you. Please get in touch with me FIRST if you are interested so we can work out the details. Quantities are limited – contact me now if you are interested! *
For Fort McMurray evacuees, I want to be sure you have the support you need. I’m sure there are so many emotions that you are going through right now. I am not a counsellor and coaching is definitely NOT a replacement for these services. Please ensure you are taking care of your physical and mental health and getting the help you need for your family.
Thank you for supporting those affected by the tragedy and for supporting each other.
With love and humility,
PS The photos I've shared are of happy times in Fort McMurray. Because that's what Fort McMurray is to me.
A place of joy. Friendships. Laughter. Natural beauty. Adventure.
That's what Fort McMurray will be again.